There’s sort of a sub-movement within the “Big Two” right now, fixated on self-referential spoofing of all the goofier aspects of the cape comic. Lots of big, weird moments featuring takes on characters or concepts from the Silver or even Golden Ages, purposefully designed to be wacky with maximum wackiness, one-liners, and often, but not always, bright, poppy colors over illustrations with deceptively simplistic styles (usually from the likes of Michael Allred or Marcos Martin). The super ambitious ones use the zany stuff to comment on the growing darkness of modern comics. In the same way the big, overly serious event titles and grim fare is meant to placate superhero readers who pump their fists at “Bam! Pow! Zap! Comics Aren’t for Kids Anymore”-style articles, these aim for those who want the zany fun from Comics of Christmas Past. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman is the prototype for what this movement is doing, and it’s a fantastic comic (in fact, this sort of thing has become Morrison’s stock in trade). When it works, it leads to delightfully absurd imagery like Batman Incorporated’s Bat-Cow or everything that came from Ghost Rider: Heaven’s on Fire; when it doesn’t, we get well-intended misfires like Final Crisis or the straightforward pandering of the current Amazing Spider-Man run and its shrill proclamation, “No one dies!”
I debated whether or not Wolverine and the X-Men #17 is a successful entry in this sub-sub-genre or not, if only because it hits all the buttons my monkey brain is predisposed to liking: it takes a break from tying-in to the big company crossover to tell the story of a minor character–the floating, incomprehensible Doop from X-Statix (co-created by this issue’s fill-in artist, Allred)–and highlights the stories we don’t see that involve him, while his primary life with the rest of the cast (Kitty Pryde, Beast, and others) shows how ostracized Doop is for essentially being “worthless”; it features appearances from obscure or semi-obscure 70s Marvel characters like Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, and Deathlok; and, most of all, there’s a scene where Doop fights a bowling team made up of Neo-Nazis (who heil with their balls and everything). This is precisely the sort of thing I should love. Mike Allred’s art is witty enough–between the frumpy, balding, middle-aged white men sporting matching shirts with Reichsadler insignias on the back and the panels of Doop seducing members of the Westchester County School Board to keep them from shutting down the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning (complete with various, hilarious disguises)–it almost distracts from how Jason Aaron’s script just speeds along from one gag or reference to the next like a Seth MacFarlane cartoon; and any scene involving Howard the Duck teaming up with x to fight y never fails to get me chuckling, and this particular one has a chicken with nails stuck in it and a gun that shoots bees (as helpfully explained below by Howard).
Then again, reading it all over again, I’m thinking all these fun and games are just a little too pleading and demanding, aren’t they? “Love my quirkiness,” Aaron exclaims, yanking ever harder on his puppet strings. It’s enough talent to make the individual scenes charming, but the issue is so relentlessly one-note. Doop himself just serves as an excuse to throw together random, outrageous scenes, which is already Wolverine and the X-Men’s tune, but without any guiding motif to make him more than just one more gag tossed onto the pile. His final act, smashing a computer with a bat before going off to sleep in a hallway, is about as frustrated an attempt to close so lacking a narrative as any I’ve seen this year. If nothing else, Aaron and Allred show all the talent in the world can’t stop endless self-referencing from being a dead end.